Saturday, July 31

It's Only Love 

Of all the things that are overrated in life, the one that strikes me every so often and irrevocably so is love. Of course, if you’re madly in love with someone and truly believe you can’t live without them or that your world will come apart if they turn their back on you, you might say I’m completely out of whack for saying so. Or you may think I’m alluding to idolatry, or lust, or any of the repercussions of love. But no, I’m not, and I could take off on a whole new tangent with my inferences on those.

Then again, I may have agreed with you if I was still a teen. I know the topic has been done to death already, but like most dreamy, romantic teens, I too imagined a love life that would color my world a glossy hint of rose, and pored over love song lyrics to the minutest semasiological degree until there was nothing left to decipher in them if one kicked and tossed them over and about. I had even picked some ideal life partners in a roll over the span of a few teenage years -- among them was an uncle (whose divorce with my aunt years later completely astounded me), a cousin’s husband, a Hollywood actor, a singer, and a news reader. And even before I had the acumen to pick out the virtues and have related reveries, I used to admire the on-now, off-now bond my grandparents shared.

My grandpa kept a diary all his adult life, recorded daily goings on unfailingly, without wincing over even the most mundane or menial of occurences, including my grandma’s ceremonial, weekly oil baths. The insiders’ joke, if you will, was that my grandma spent a little over 3 hours on these baths. My grandpa had returned from grocery shopping one summer afternoon, to find that the door was double-locked, and the sound of water running in the bathroom was booming through the walls of the house. Anticipating the worst in terms of appetence-inducing waiting hours, he traversed several kilometers to my parents’ home, requesting my mom to serve him a good lunch and some buttermilk to wash it down with. I may have missed observing them when they were younger, and living on their own; and that perhaps was a good thing. As they grew older, the unrest that plagues middle-aged couples had come to settle a bit, according to my mom. And even though they bickered over the most preposterous issues everyday when they were well into their sixties/ seventies and staying with us, the essence of their togetherness was very unique. They wouldn’t eat without sharing with each other, and spent their evenings on a park bench, holding hands and grinning and bearing the other's exegesis on topics ranging from the price of milk to the roguish demeanor of the youth. These evening walks were possibly as ceremonious as the oil baths. My grandma would spend an hour getting dressed -- her one-a-day signature Kanjeevaram with color and motif co-ordinated jewelry, her silken white tresses braided and complected with jasmines on a string, and the edge of her ‘pallu’ held lithely in her quivering right hand. And then they’d fight over her being over-dressed for an evening walk, and she’d question if he was capable of walloping thieves with his Japanese walking stick.

But years hence, I began to comprehend the mystery behind her pent-up rage against him, feeling a sense of pity and exasperation at the same time. She had borne 14 of his children, year after successive year, and had had virtually no time to recuperate or get a hold of her reality. She was uneducated, had no thirst for acquiring any form of knowledge, incapable of fending for herself, and that externalized into an in inexplicable inertia when it came to caring for him or her own children. There was no real depth to the love between them, and it was more of an inevasible onus toward a liaison to hold together until the last breath. And of course, familiarity had bred some mutual regard and contempt to trudge along with an on-now, off-now spirit.

Well, needless to say, as much as I like to deny it, I have since grown up for what it’s worth. Even though I have no distinct measure to prove it by action. I grew up, fell in love, and married the man who ruled my dreams and desires. I am happily married and there is more than enough love and respect between us to sustain us for a lifetime. But love doesn’t manifest in the form of golden confetti over a sparkling rainbow or isn’t something we proclaim to each other everyday, holding the butterflies in our stomachs. Love is an underlying theme that steers the focus on to the bigger picture. And I think that love is overrated because it is not the only binding factor for companionship. I think love is a path to self-discovery for partners, and if not for the quixotic trip I went on at the outset that made me teeter just a little before I warmed my feet up for the gravelly path ahead, I’d have been an all-submissive lover, losing myself and my balance in the process. I think love should make one realize they’re alone, and not that they’re together with someone. That then is love in its purest form, mellow and moderate and exuding a sense of tranquility as opposed to a chaotic tampering with the energies of each partner. Love is not all fairy-tale fluff and kiss and yell from the rooftops. Love should translate into other forms of emotions and then it is love in its entirety. And perhaps, just perhaps, when I grow up a little more, I’ll have something else to add..

Stretching the Sketchyaddle Spaces 

There are some words that cannot be defined in a single breath or phrase. Like heartbeats, they contain a life, a world within them. Chancing upon them, for instance, is something that cannot be subsumed within the wings of the etymology of serendipity. A word that I’m thinking of right now, which construes a range of overlapping sensations by itself, is sketchyaddle. It’s the perfect word to describe what’s on my mind tonight: the lopsided, fragmentary nature of conversations one has with people these days. It’s almost as if there is a coterie of chosen ones ordained by a twisted force above or below, to keep busy at all hours of day and night; and a clique that runs nearly parallel to this one, of ones who are busy at all hours of day and night, obsessing about their own lives and its joys and sorrows.

Paul Simon hit the nail on the head with his innuendo about dangling conversations and superficial smiles. It’s true, we’re stuck in a sea of dangling conversations and superficial smiles. Colons and commas and ellipses flap and float around in everyday relationships, online or offline, leaving so much unsaid and unfinished. Superficial smiles embellish even the grimmest of word exchanges, rendering them virtually meaningless, or get replaced by sighs and soughs. And it often takes hours, sometimes weeks, of planning to fix up such a conversation with someone. The business of being busy or preoccupied is quite the rage, and the dreaded red dot is permanently affixed with certain names. Sometimes, even the green dots are indifferent to nudges. Hypomnesia is the order of the day, and the most convenient excuse. The folks who belong to either group forget about unfinished conversations and the half-baked words used within the span of those with alarming regularity. But sadly, they forget that Facebook, like a hawk, is watching and clocking their every move, unless they’re adroit enough to erase the timeline of activities on their pages. They are so busy befriending friends of friends of fourth cousins twice removed from maternal or paternal sides that they forget they had a conversation going, or a commitment to one, with a first order friend. They are so heavily focused on themselves that all they can say to a conversation opener is “Hi, doing good, thanks.” Where does one go from there? There’s no colon, comma or ellipses hovering around there. It’s a cul-de-sac. There’s no cue even in that fancy, delusional smiley at the end to take it forward. Of course one might assume in all fairness that they might be busy, or preoccupied, but that still doesn’t explain the cavalier air, because they don’t come back at a later hour or day to check on you. Infact, they never do, unless you go to them and revive the path to the cul-de-sac all over again.

But the red dots and green dots don’t stop with the online interactions. People are seldom ‘green’ offline too. On rare occasions, conversations do take on from where they’d been left, months hence. Rudimentary etiquette crawls its way through to these encounters, prompting the quintessential conversation carry-over question, “So, you were saying..?” But even that dissipates with the onslaught of awkward pauses or like the bubbles over coffees. Sometimes, a newly arranged rendezvous can light up a new spark, and fill out the trail of vacuum from before. A new window opens up, a new chapter gets written, and suddenly there is no need to refer to old connotations. But it’s ephemeral, like a measured sweep of fresh air before cinders of dust start to swarm in and defile it.

In my quest for all things sketchyaddle, I came upon Norton Juster’s quote:

"And when I'm writing, I write a lot anyway. I might write pages and pages of conversation between characters that don't necessarily end up in the book, or in the story I'm working on, because they're simply my way of getting to know the characters."

So, even in a storytellers’ fate, unfinished conversations must fall. There are few things as it is that assuage grander thirsts, when one is traversing the one-way streets abound. A fulfilling conversation, like a cup of coffee that sustains its 80 degree warmth until the last drop, is as recherche as good things can get. Maybe if we enjoyed the ride without worrying about blocks and jams, we’d be freer. Freer for the better, to learn to let all things sketchyaddle just be, like the opaque silk of a dimlit twilight sky that harbors no stars or silvery moonlight, but is irreplaceable and incorrigible all the same. Freer to look for satiation within, and harness the power of the self-sufficing, overworked mind.

Thursday, July 29

The Nuances of Nostalgia 

Nostalgia, as they say, isn’t what it used to be. With all the manner of Facebook groups centered around Proustian themes culled out from the 90's pages, there’s nowhere to turn for those who spent their early childhood years in the 70s. Of course there are groups that discuss Doordarshan shows and such, but it makes one wonder if it’s merely going to transmogrify into a cult that will be hence reminisced as the Facebook Group of Doordarshan Nostalgists, even as Facebook wanes and makes way for a new networking site, which will possibly be called Videobook..and the charm of what the group aimed to achieve to begin with will be lost in the chase.

It’s hard to let a sepia-toned memory go by placidly, especially at a time when one is faced with innumerable vicissitudes of novelties that come unannounced and leave without warning. A friend recently initiated a nostalgic mission of sorts, a series of mails where we log some of our fondest or most bizarre school memories. It’s been nothing short of amazing to discover how amnesia has struck each of us at different points. Each one’s version of an episode is just a little different from the other’s, and each one knows more about the workings of the other’s teenage mind. I have also discovered that there are varying degrees of selfdom involved in all this recounting of things past. There are certain instances where selective amnesia comes into play, where one only remembers the incidents one was involved in. At other instances, one demonstrates an acute-edged sensitivity in that the sentiments and thoughts of the other are finely accentuated. The mystery that still shrouds this analysis of sorts is the fact that one will never know how grown up one feels about one’s teenage years. As teens, we probably assumed a sense of maturity, and while some of the decisions we took in that spirit retain their gravity years hence, some do leave a callow taste in the mouth. One suspects we will never feel grown-up enough, and the emotions that fill out the expanse of the thinking mind today will space themselves out soon enough, leaving vacuous trails for newer sensations to take over. Every year, every decade has its zeitgeist, and it’s rather astounding how phenomena acquire newfangled forms and mitigate the idiosyncrasies of the older ones, as if mockingly.

In music and art, the nostalgic wheel perpetually turns over. There is always a yearning for the olden classics, the desire to revisit jagged-edged frames from the black-and-white era. We can’t stop talking about old melodies, trends, books and pictures. They don’t make them like they used to, we lament. On closer inspection, I find that it’s more to do with the congealing of our own definitions of feel-good stuff over time, than the lack of desire to explore newness. We grow old, never failing to hold on to the childish streak, needless to say, while adjusting our postulations and beliefs as we go along just a little, leaving no scope for malleability whatsoever. And bits of reminiscences of how we liked things, as opposed to how things were, flow embedded in a stream of consciousness spout of thought, every now and then.

At the same time, the wheel that perpetually turns over allows for an alliteration of sorts, making nostalgia fashionable at calibrated intervals. Strains of old melodies begin to reverberate underneath the thrum of newage beats, and in the manner of Millhauser-esque projections, farthingale gowns would possibly make a comeback in variegated forms, even as women, in all their pencil-heeled glory, deflect the onslaught of pettiskirt exigencies gracefully. Updos are reinvented every so often, while the silken splendor of long, open-ended tresses reigns seasonally. Old classics are retold, remade, and with each attempt it seems as if a new vista for learning has been opened, a new perspective acquired, new eccentricities lit up. And at the bottom of every resurgence, the yen for holding on to something that belonged strums constantly, manifesting in the manner of nostalgic storytelling trips.

I remember a chain email that was doing the rounds many moons ago, that talked about ageing and social, musical, and artistic timelines. It said, “You know you’re growing really old when you’re surrounded by ‘youngsters’ who believe that Uptown Girl came from Westlife.” That is as scary as scary can get, but I think I’ll go play Joel, among Dylan and maybe even Flatt & Scruggs from grandpa’s 'playlist,' in loops so my five-year-old won’t grow up oblivious to what gilds nostalgia in her mommy’s world. For all I know, she may care more for the candyfloss rainbows of today, but gold may just become the new sterling silver, as cycles go.

Tuesday, July 27

Lederhosen and the Path of Self-discovery 

Lederhosen. The word brings a smile to my face, despite the fact that it also makes me twitch in discomfort. Well, the thought of these German hiking pants with shoulder straps sitting snug on a man’s body as he takes brisk steps down a walkway can make anyone flinch just a little. Especially if you’re a woman who appreciates a well-toned male body whose gait is just a wee more kingly than manly. But I digress. I haven’t really sat down and imagined a man with a well-toned body walking briskly in his Lederhosen. I was referring to the discomfort that stems from reading Haruki Murakami’s short story by that name, which is rich with so many emotional layers, so many metaphors for our lives that it has got me thinking. It is the story of a Japanese couple separating over a pair of German hiking pants.

The woman travels to Germany to spend time with her sister, promising, as requested, to bring her husband a pair of lederhosen back as a gift. She finds herself in an unusual lederhosen shop that sells only to men who wish to buy a pair or two for themselves. Her challenge then is to bring back a man who is approximately of the same build as her husband, so he can try the pants on and see how they fit. Uncannily as it were, she does end up finding a man who looked exactly like her husband (save his skin tone), from the receding hairline, to the shape of his legs. Observing this man as he tried the lederhosen on, all frisky and cocky like a little boy with a new toy, she realized so many things that she’d been unsure of, about her own self as a person, and it all began to gradually coagulate into something solid, something crystal. And it dawned upon her that she, infact, simply hated her husband. And she decided to divorce him.

It brings us, ofcourse, as readers, as readers who anatomize every turn of sentence, every underlying sensation and try to comprehend in all that the grimmest of semblances with the workings of our own minds and lives, to a state of trance. The dots that connect daze us and make us wonder where the beginning was and how it snaked its way to the end point as it were. This particular part of the story got me thinking about how, when in a seemingly extraneous instance, new light is shed on an aspect of our lives and the veil of mist gets lifted..a new strain of emotion dips itself into the still waters, and makes us fathom the depth of things. It could be an exchange of words with someone, on a day long past that seems to make sense of a sudden, in the most unlikely of situations one finds oneself in. Or the things that one believed accounted for one’s virtues, seem to evanesce with time, and one has evolved and risen above all that, for the better. This need to soul-search, discover oneself, bash oneself over one’s flaws, seek and restore the righteous spirit, reinvent oneself..becomes a routine mission when one is stuck in a complex web of emotions and relationships. Not that the realization comes when one sets foot in the web, of course. And then, the idea of a couple separating over a pair of lederhosen doesn’t seem so bizarre anymore.

What I also took away from this is that we do have the predilection to find cues in objects for grander things, like reality check barometers. And I don’t just mean the objects we surround ourselves with, where keys to many memories are locked in. An object we’re never seen before could become a synergist for change. And that change, against the odds of resolve and fragility of heart, will come to make more sense with the passage of time.

There are few writers who can make us ruminate and reflect long after the strike of their words has abated. What Murakami can do with his writing to his readers’ minds is best left unsaid, like the interpretations of the endings of his stories. It should suffice to say that in the process of reading writers like him and looking within, one learns to tune out the sounds of the imp of the perverse and the angel of righteousness at the required times and yet attain a balance on the tightrope walk that makes perfect sense to one, while it may seem like the most eccentric of things to the rest of the world.